It’s not often you see your old landlord on telly, but that’s what happened last night when I switched over to BBC2 for The Secret History of Our Streets. (That’s him at the top of the page, by the way.)
This series, which explores the history of some of London’s most famous thoroughfares, has proven compelling viewing since its first episode aired three weeks ago, but last night’s edition about the Caledonian Road in north London was particularly engrossing.
Telling the tale of what is generally considered one of the capital’s blacker spots, the documentary chronicled the district’s origins as a hunting ground, its transformation into a hive of crime and vice, and the Cally’s eventual metamorphosis into a more settled place for travellers and low-income workers to settle in London.
And for me, personally, it was interesting to see just how much of the district’s current appearance and character owes to local property tycoon Andrew Panayi, from whom I used to rent a flat in Holloway.
Showing absolutely no remorse for his rather cavalier approach to dealing with Islington Council’s planning department, Panayi explained on camera how he’d bought up a sizable chunk of the shops and flats along the Caledonian Road and exploited his real estate for all it was worth, adding extra storeys to buildings, and even letting out newly-created underground flats to cash-strapped individuals.
Despite some of his tenants’ reservations about their properties (“I thought it was a s***hole,” says an occupant of one of the entrepreneur’s subterranean bedsits), it was hard not to be impressed both by the man, who was as charmingly eccentric on TV as I found him in real life, and the huge impact this marginal figure from my own life has had on both the physical and social landscapes of the capital.
In fact, these sorts of revelations are the bread and butter of this documentary strand, and each episode thus far has abounded with fascinating facts about the metropolis and citizens not normally discussed on TV.
It’s a lovingly produced series which makes the ordinary seem extraordinary and creates an appropriate sense of wonder about London in a year which will see the city (or at least the Olympic Park in Stratford) become the focus of the world.
So if you missed this and fancy learning more about a very colourful area of London and its equally vibrant inhabitants, I’d urge you to give last night’s episode (and, indeed, the whole series) a watch on iPlayer.
Oh, and should you ever find yourself paying rent to Mr. Panayi, relax: he’s a good egg really, even if he doesn’t always do things exactly by the book…